De terra veritas

“Truth shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness hath looked down from heaven.”  Psalm 85:11.

If a Latin tag for a title seems a bit pretentious, I must beg the privilege of a High-church clergyman. I can at least aver that it wasn’t my idea to begin with. My predecessor as editor of The Living Church, Dr. Christopher Wells, has long written in these pages under another tag from the Vulgate’s Psalter, Caeli enarrant — “the heavens are telling.” Over the years, his column has told of “the glory of God,” to be sure; but also of assorted other ‘high and holy things,’ with that sparkling erudition one expects of a gifted theologian.

Don’t worry, Christopher hasn’t vanished into the empyrean. He’s just focused on the larger direction of our common publishing work, in service of ecclesial renewal. You’ll be reading even more of him, as our columns alternate in issues to come, like a psalm tossed between the two sides of the choir.

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Mine will be the lower register. I am just a parish priest who loves a good story, so an altogether more terrestrial tag seemed fitting. I’ve also spent a good deal of my life with my hands in the soil, growing up in a farming family and laboring in the vineyard of the Church for nearly a decade and a half. My reading and thinking usually tends to the nearer side of the Divine economy: the church’s history and liturgy, the care of souls and the shaping of communities. I take up my editorial work alongside an active parish ministry, and the good people of Saint Francis Church will surely appear from time to time in these ramblings.

I hope that The Living Church will continue to bear witness to the truth of God that springs up from the earth. It is our aim to seek out and lift up the ways that ordinary men and women respond to God’s call to proclaim the Gospel and to serve their neighbors in love. We will ponder together difficult questions about how best to teach and live the faith in changing and challenging times. We will celebrate unexpected graces and offer encouragement. There may even be some useful advice to equip saints like you for the seemingly impossible but surprisingly blessed work of ministry within that portion of the good field God has assigned to us.

To announce truth springing up from the earth is, above all, to sing of the glories of Jesus, who is himself the truth of God (John 14:6), the “true Light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). We take up these verses of Psalm 85 at Christmastime, celebrating his coming as one of us, a fellow child of the soil. His birth is the dawn of grace and reconciliation, as angels sing in the skies of a baby fresh from the depths of his mother.  God’s love draws together high and low, near and far “for us and for our salvation.” In Him “righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps. 85:10).

In his great Christmas Sermon (185), Saint Augustine delights in this ironic meeting of contrary things: “Truth, incorruptibly nourishing the happiness of the angels, has sprung from the earth in order to be fed by human milk. Truth, whom the heavens cannot contain, has sprung from the earth so that he might be placed in a manger.” The sermon has its moral as well as its joyful poetry. Such a miracle shows that we sinners cannot save ourselves, and it compels us to be reconciled with one another. “’He himself is our peace, he it is who has made both one’ (Eph. 2:14) so that we might become men of good will, bound together by the pleasing fetters of unity. Let us rejoice, then, in this grace so that our glory may be the testimony of our conscience wherein we glory not in ourselves but in the Lord.”

Even now, God is forging “pleasing fetters of unity,” and this issue lifts up several aspects of our longstanding mission to work and pray for the unity of the church. In our news section we learn of campus ministry partnerships with Lutherans and tentative steps toward full communion between Anglicans and Methodists. Among the book reviews, our new Covenant editor, Eugene Schlesinger, grapples with the gifts and challenges of Presbyterian understandings of the Church. We also rejoice in the pending canonization of John Henry Newman, once seen mostly as a divisive figure, but now celebrated by Anglican and Roman Catholic brothers and sisters alike.

About The Author

Fr. Mark Michael is the editor of The Living Church magazine and rector of St. Francis Episcopal Church, Potomac, Maryland. A native of rural Western Maryland, he is a graduate of Duke University and Wycliffe Hall, Oxford.

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